Where the Crawdads Sing – based on the booming bestseller from reclusive naturalist Delia Owens – is by no means the worst example of a film that should've been a series. In fact, it’s a fairly serviceable adaptation: retelling, in essence, a 60s murder mystery that pits an ostracised woman against the prejudices of the nearby townsfolk.
But in order to fit within the limits of the medium, this film accelerates, restructures and exacerbates the storytelling. Director Olivia Newman and screenwriter Lucy Alibar lose the bulk of Owens’s fuggy atmosphere as well as her delicate (if occasionally laborious) pacing. This critic can’t be the only reader/viewer to dream of a slower, superior limited series while watching.
Daisy Edgar-Jones and David Strathairn as Kya and Tom. Photo: PA Media/Sony
Near Barkley Cove, a small coastal town surrounded by marshland in North Carolina, the body of Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) is found below an abandoned fire tower. The first and only suspect is the 20-something woman Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones), mythologised by the town as the solitudinous ‘Marsh Girl’, who lives in an isolated shack among thick trees, abundant rivers and CG wildlife.
Suiting the new acceleration, the third act of the novel is brought to the fore. Kya is caught and thrown behind bars, waiting to stand trial for a murder she maintains she didn’t commit. For her rational and sympathetic lawyer Tom (Nomadland’s David Strathairn), Kya recounts her life story of love, hate and loneliness in the marsh.
From the start, the writing sets the film's imperfect tone. Alibar reduces the searching officers to expositional mouthpieces and her dialogue, in general, leaves a metallic and functional taste. She rarely sits patiently with the characters.
Like most of the film’s creative diversions, the purpose is to tell as much as possible, as quickly as possible. It makes you wonder how much was cut or cut short. A glaring and uncomfortable omission from the novel is the extent of Barkley Cove's racial segregation, only hinted at via the parental Black characters Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer Jr) and Mabel (Michael Hyatt).
Thankfully, Newman composes scenes with enough warmth and tension to care about Kya – delighting in her scientific understanding of the marsh and mature self-sufficiency after several abandonments. But her story is bolstered immeasurably by the perfectly cast Daisy Edgar-Jones and, arguably, she's the reason why the film sustains its allure. Everything orbits the success of that performance, especially in her bubbling chemistry with Taylor John Smith as Kya’s love interest Tate.
Edgar-Jones resumes the introversion left over from Normal People, and brings it to the American South of the 60s. She perfectly captures Kya’s tortured trust and evasiveness from others, as well as her hesitant submission to certain people.
Daisy Edgar-Jones and Taylor John Smith as Kya and Tate. Photo: PA Media/Sony
But in its need for speed, the film still fails to satisfactorily show Kya’s intense interiority. On TV, introverted women are given the time and delicacy they deserve (think of Euphoria, Conversations With Friends, Life & Beth). Over two fast-burn hours, Alibar erases that privilege – pushing and pulling Kya, scene after scene, moment after moment, severing any slowness to constantly advance the plot.
As a result, Where the Crawdads Sing is an overcast, mediocre adaptation with a few spells of lightning but little in terms of risk.
Where the Crawdads Sing will be in UK cinemas on Friday 22 July.
|What||Where the Crawdads Sing movie review|
15 Jul 22 – 15 Jul 23, IN CINEMAS
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
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